OIL PIPELINES ACROSS TRIBAL LAND

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By Leon Thompson

October 31, 2015 (White Earth Minnesota) – Tar Sands the filthiest, most carbon intensive oil on the planet from Canada and North Dakota are slated to cross Northern Minnesota, targeting sites significant to Native American communities and public lands treasured by people across America and around the world.

The proposal called the “Sandpiper” would establish a new energy corridor through the lake and wild rice country of Northern Minnesota, moving up to l.4 million barrels of oil a day across the state, with more pipelines expected to be added in the future. 

On September 14, 2015 in a unanimous 3-0 decision, the Minnesota Court of Appeals revoked the Certificate of Need for the Sandpiper pipeline and required the Minnesota Public Utility Commission (PUC) to complete a full Environmental Impact Statement before proceeding with the permitting process.  The Court found that the lack of an EIS constituted a violation of the Minnesota Environmental Protection Act. 

However, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson filed an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court in an attempt to overturn the ruling.

Northern Minnesota is home to the Anishinaabe who are Chippewa, Ojibwa and Cree.  The White Earth Reservation was set aside as a homeland for the Anishinaabe.  The White Earth reservation is the headwaters of the Mississippi River, a refuge for timber wolves, free range buffalo and Mahnoman (wild rice) the “food that grows on water” promised to the Anishinaabe by the Great Spirit. 

The Court of Appeals found that the PUC was making decisions without following state law because it did not take into account the environmental justice impacts of building new pipelines.  The PUC process is flawed because it relies on a self-serving environmental document prepared by Enbridge (the contractor) and a review by the Department of Commerce that glosses over the risks of building a new pipeline corridor across our most pristine lakes and wild rice beds and the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

Amazingly, the PUC does not consider the full impacts of pipeline construction and likely oil spills on wild rice and disregards tribal governments and Native peoples by refusing to hold hearings within tribal communities.

The 1855 Treaty Authority gives the Tribes fishing, hunting and gathering rights and the responsibility to care for the environment. 

"Our responsibility as the people here is to take care of that land and to take care of that rice and to take care of everything the Creator gave us," said Winona LaDuke, a White Earth tribal member and two-time Green Party vice presidential candidate. "The issue is, how are you going to be able to eat your rice if there's oil in it?"

“The AG’s attack shows that she does not think that the state should prepare an Environmental Impact Statement when it determines the need for a pipeline.  Apparently, her position is that the state should not consider the climate change impacts of importing more of the most carbon intensive oil on the planet, from the Bakken in North Dakota and the Tar Sands of Canada, much less fully consider alternatives to this dirty fuel, such as more fuel-efficient vehicles or renewable energy.”

Given the impact that oil pipelines have on Minnesota’s and the world’s environment, why would Minnesota’s Attorney General think that a full environmental review is not necessary?

As in Minnesota, Apache Leap in Arizona and East County San Diego the battle to save our Mother Earth from exploitation and extreme extraction is raging in Indian Country her first line of defense.